Also known as Helga, princess of Kiev; b. Pskov, Russia, c. 890; d. Kiev, Russia, July 11, 969. Probably of Slavic descent, Olga married Igor, the Varangian prince of Kiev in 903, and after his death on campaign in 945 she acted as regent for their son Svyatoslav (d.972). Her revenge against the Drevlianians for her husband's death is described at length by Nestor in the Primary Chronicle, and the monastic historian has high praise for her courage and ability as a ruler. She instituted administrative and fiscal reforms throughout the realm and hastened its recovery from the destructive wars of Igor. Late in 957 she visited Constantinople; and although the Russian sources describe her baptism there, it appears from a careful reading of the Greek accounts that Olga had already been a Christian for several years when she visited the court of Emperor constantine porphyrogenitus. Although she might well have been received into the Latin rite in Kiev c. 955, the princess, in an effort to gain autonomy for the Russian church, was prepared to enter into relations with either Rome or Byzantium, and her visit to Constantine was followed by a letter to otto i, asking that missionaries be sent to her people. Her baptism was not followed by the conversion of the whole nation, for the pagan party rallied around her son Svyatoslav, who resisted all efforts of his mother to instruct him in the faith. After her son had come of age in 964, Olga again served as regent in Kiev while he was engaged in wars against the Bulgars, and on her death he gave her a Christian burial in that city. Olga was early recognized as a saint and is honored in the Russian and Ukrainian Churches, along with her grandson vladimir, who effected the Christianization of his people c. 988.
Feast: July 11.
Bibliography: The Russian Primary Chronicle, ed. and tr. s.h. cross and o. p. sherbowitz–wetzor (Cambridge, Mass. 1953) 64–87, 111. constantine, porphyrogenitus, De cerimoniis… , bk. 2, ch. 15 in Patrologia Graeca, ed. j. p. migne, 161 v. (Paris 1857–66) 112:1107–12. e. golubinsky, Istoriia russkoi tserkvi (2d ed. Moscow 1900–01) 1.1:74–104, 241–242. g. laehr, Die Anfänge des russischen Reiches (Berlin 1930) 103–106. g. vernadsky, Kievan Russia (New Haven 1948) 32–47. a. butler, The Lives of the Saints, rev. ed. h. thurston and d. attwater, 4v. (New York 1956) 3:72. b. del colle, Olga e Gorbaciov: 1000 anni di cristianesimo in Russia (2d ed. Turin 1988). Kniaginia Kievskaia Olga (Moscow 2000) anonymous author. a. s. korolev, Istoriia mezhdukniazheskikh otnoshenii na Rusi (Moscow 2000).
[b. j. comaskey]